Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh (R) believes that transgender people’s bodies are traumatizing, and that’s why he’s pushing a bill to legalize discrimination based on gender identity. This is considered a “softening” from his first effort to criminalize transgender people’s use of restrooms, but not by much. Kavanagh explained why he’s trying to overturn the city of Phoenix’s nondiscrimination protections in an extended interview with Michelangelo Signorile on Wednesday:
KAVANAGH: First of all, the bathroom wasn’t the major issue. The real purpose of my bill was for showers. What Phoenix did was allow someone who is biologically male who thinks they’re female to go into a gym or a swimming pool shower or a locker room where people undress completely and this could be a woman or a girl or a young girl. I’ve had a number of parents say that they would be outraged if a man, a person who is biologically male, is in the locker room. [...]
Anybody who is concerned about a black person in a restaurant is sick, but a parent who is concerned about a young child in a locker room in this situation is a good parent in my opinion. What we have here essentially is a balancing of rights. The right not to be exposed. I think there’s psychological harm to a young girl exposed to the genitalia of the opposite sex. I think there’s some trauma there for some young girls. I don’t think it’s appropriate in that environment.
Listen to the full interview:
Amazingly, the word “penis” was avoided during the entire conversation, but its looming presence bespeaks how offensive Kavanagh’s position is. Transgender people are too often reduced to their bodies such that they cannot be seen as real people. It’s absurd to conclude that all girls would experience psychological harm by simply seeing another person’s body, and such an assertion suggests that trans people’s bodies are somehow dangerous to others. Kavanagh tried to obfuscate responsibility for his position by referring to a case at Evergreen College where a trans woman’s use of the locker room raised concern with a young girl’s family. He neglected to mention that it’s the very anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom that is responsible for raising the controversy in the first place.
Kavanagh’s description of a trans person as someone “who is biologically male who thinks they’re female” suggests his understanding of how his bill might actually impact trans people is limited. Consider the lived experience of the transgender woman, who identifies, presents, and lives as a woman in every aspect of her life. She may have undergone hormone therapy, electrolysis/laser hair removal, and other procedures to bring her body and gender into alignment, but she may have elected not to undergo surgery on her genitals — a costly, invasive procedure that would likely permanently sterilize her, depriving her of her reproductive rights. If she were to enter a men’s restroom or locker room, she would look entirely out of place, and as Signorile pointed out, would face a heightened risk for violence and harassment. The women’s room is the correct room for her to use. According to Kavanagh, however, the mere fact that she might still happen to have a penis that another girl in the locker room might just happen to see is such a safety risk to the girl that discrimination against all trans people is thus justified. It’s absurd, belittling, and just plain bigoted.
The “bathroom safety” myth is a way to make transgender people seem scary in a way that dehumanizes them such that discrimination seems like an important precaution to protect children. While there is no evidence to suggest trans people threaten children’s safety, there is ample evidence that discrimination threatens trans people’s safety. In the end, this is just a bigoted politician’s sugarcoated way of saying, “Eww.”